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‘Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko’ Review: Lovely Food, Bad Taste

‘Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko’ Review: Lovely Food, Bad Taste

The Japanese anime “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko,” from the director Ayumu Watanabe and the creative producer Sanma Akashiya, is full of expressive, ravishing images, with a sumptuous watercolor style that renders every delicate sunrise and shimmering river a gorgeous and original vision. Of particular note is the food, which, despite being animated, looks utterly delicious: from French toast to fried noodles, from misuji (top blade Wagyu beef) to okonomiyaki (a kind of savory pancake), the meals this movie lingers over had my mouth watering. There is a sweet potato snack consumed in one scene that looks better than any sweet potato I’ve ever had in real life.

Food is the focus of “Lady Nikuko,” in part because Nikuko (Shinobu Otake) and her daughter Kikuko (Cocomi) live and work in a bustling grill house in a small Japanese port town. More troublingly, food is the focus because of Nikuko’s weight. Nikuko is a large woman, which the movie constantly emphasizes; almost every time she appears onscreen, she devolves into a ludicrous caricature and is most often depicted as falling over, farting or messily stuffing her face.

The movie ostensibly concerns Nikuko and Kikuko’s alternately fraught and loving relationship, strained on the daughter’s end by the usual coming-of-age difficulties and on the mother’s by various domestic responsibilities. Their scenes together are tender, verging on poignant — until, inevitably, Nikuko makes a fool of herself, and the movie reverts to fatphobic punch lines and juvenile body-shaming. Although she is buoyant and cheerful, Nikuko is cast as oafish and uncouth, and she is always ultimately the butt of the joke. It’s a puerile, mean-spirited tendency that altogether spoils the otherwise exquisite imagery.

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Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko
Not rated. In Japanese, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters.

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